With London's tube to run 24 hours at the weekend from September, what will it mean for hospitality operators? Brendan Coyne reports
Midnight in London, 24-hour city, the most visited in the world. But you've missed the last tube home. Will it be an expensive taxi or a series of sluggish night buses?
For late-night workers, that's an everyday choice. But there's a light at the end of the tunnel. From 12 September, visitors to the Capital will be able to travel on the Jubilee, Victoria and most of the Piccadilly, Central and Northern tube lines all night on Fridays and Saturdays.
That could be a windfall for the hospitality sector. Transport for London's impact assessment claims quantifiable benefits of around 2,000 new jobs and a net benefit of £360m to the economy. Unquantifiable benefits include "potential for longer operating hours for bars, clubs and restaurants", according to the document.
Mayor Boris Johnson is a big advocate, although whether his backing makes late licences any easier to obtain is a moot point. But one absolute is that travel will become much easier. Those city operators The Caterer spoke to are all for it.
Full use of the platform
D&D managing director David Loewi said the move was nothing but good. "It will help customers and staff get home safely, keep London top of tourists' minds and create jobs."
Will it have any impact on D&D's operations? Potentially in the West End, said Loewi. He thinks Floridita, Skylon and Quaglinos will "hopefully be busier late at night", although he admitted it was hard to gauge, because "a lot of customers don't necessarily take the tube".
But Pied à Terre's David Moore does see hard benefits. "I think it will be a great saving for hospitality. We have some fairly chunky taxi bills because there is no public transport apart from night buses.
So it's a definite bonus for the industry," he said. "Also, it means people can stay out later without worrying about a £30-£40 taxi home."
Moore predicted that it would encourage a more relaxed approach to dining, stretching service times across the capital. "I think it will translate to
"People who have a licence to trade until one or two o'clock will find the last hour is busier. They will start applying for later licences."
Getting a late licence, however, is not straightforward and there are many restrictions, so there is unlikely to be a scramble for applications.
The only losers will be cab drivers. In fact, Moore predicted that cost savings on staff transport will be more significant than revenue increases for
"We're pretty busy. Our average ticket is £155, but a lot of people spend £200-£300," he said. "They won't be worried about getting home on a tube or the cost of a taxi. But it's a good idea. People at different price points will have different outcomes."
Moore said it could have a bigger impact on some of central London's bars.
His suggestion is confirmed by JJ Goodman, founder of the London Cocktail Club. "It will certainly have an impact," he said. "Rates in zone one are astronomical. It doesn't sound like much, but if we get an extra half-hour's drinking, that's a big impact on business across the year."
Most of the Cocktail Club's venues are licensed until midnight. Does Goodman need later licences?
"Westminster would never allow it," he said. "But if the culture changed and it was deemed by Westminster that there were more people in London
at night with not enough places to go, we would jump at the chance."
Hawksmoor's Will Beckett said it boiled down to a decision for residents and local government on whether we really want to develop a night-time economy. "That question will be enabled by the 24-hour tube," he said. "But it won't lead to an explosion in the West End because they won't get a licence."
Goodman is looking for a new venue in Soho that already has a late licence. "But if you want a 200-capacity, 3am venue, you are looking at a million pound premium," he explained. "So do we open one big one or four small ones? That is the question being batted around the board at the moment."
Goodman wants to go large. But either way, later trains mean happier staff. "If anyone will benefit, it will be the hospitality teams. They do long
hours and then take two buses home - that is hard."
Hoteliers mind the gap
Hoteliers will also see significant staff travel savings, although staff may not be as delighted as some presume. Florian Broemel, hotel manager at Lancaster London, said it would save "hundreds a month" on taxis. "Not many people can afford to live in W2, and paying for taxis can be costly," he said. "There will be a significant financial saving."
Jonathan Raggett, managing director of Red Carnation hotels, could theoretically realise near five-figure monthly savings. Across the group the
average fare is £35. With 34 staff members needing taxis, that equates to £1,190 per day. "I just hope they extend the 24-hour tube throughout the week," he said.
Actual savings will be lower, Raggett said, because in some cases it will be prudent to send staff home by taxi. But he said the group must define its policy. "We can't wait until August and then say 'hello staff, no more taxis on the weekend', so we will have to put procedures in place."
A cleaner getaway
Michael Divers, managing director of ACT Clean, was one of the speakers at TfL's Night Tube launch. The firm employs some 900 London night workers, some of whom face "horrendous" journeys.
"There is an army of people who work through the night," he said. "They don't live in Mayfair. But they do have to get to work and back and they do incredibly demanding jobs. It will improve their lives. More rest, more family time, less worry," he said. "It's huge."
ACT Clean doesn't expect increased business as a result of the 24-hour tube, "but the upside for us is mobilisation," Divers added. "We have to respond immediately to client requirements and get people quickly to where they need to be. So we will be able to deliver a better service more effectively."
Would he like to see 24/7 tube? "Absolutely. The benefit of rolling this out more extensively through the week is inestimable."
Westminster mulls licence issue
Much of the impact is likely to fall in Westminster City Council's ward, which has one of the most robust licensing regimes in the country. Could that be subject to change? The council issued the following statement:
"There has not been a noticeable change in the number of extensions of late-night premises licences or an influx in new applications. We are, however, about to launch a public consultation in relation to our licensing policy and the potential impact of extended tube opening will be one of the issues we will consider. We expect to work with Transport for London and other local partners through the West End Partnership to ensure that the implementation of night tube services maximises the benefits for residents, visitors and businesses without creating an unmanageable situation in the heart of London."